The Latest: UK has highest daily virus cases since February

LONDON — The U.K. has recorded its highest daily coronavirus cases since late February, suggesting the Delta variant is spreading widely across the country.

Government figures Wednesday showed that the U.K. recorded 7,540 new infections, the biggest daily increase since Feb. 26. Cases have been rising over the past few weeks as a result of the Delta variant first identified in India. The concern is the increase will pressure the health system once again.

Another 123 people entered the hospital with symptoms related to coronavirus, taking the total to 1,024. The number of people dying after testing positive for COVID-19 rose by six to 127,860 confirmed deaths.

Health experts hope the rapid rollout of vaccines will break the link between new cases and deaths. So far, a large proportion of the people infected are within the less vulnerable younger age groups, many of whom have yet to receive a first dose.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Africa trails the world in vaccinations; health workers treating COVID-19 patients awaiting shots

— Japan Prime Minister Suga sets vaccine goal as Olympics near

— France is back: Borders reopen to American tourists, others

— Sudan billionaire urges more vaccines for Africa

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— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GENEVA — World Trade Organization member nations have agreed to intensify talks toward geared at improving access to COVID-19 products.

Developing nations are pushing for a proposal to ease patents and other intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines, but some wealthier countries remain opposed. A panel focusing on intellectual property wrapped up a two-day meeting on Wednesday with an agreement to start a process for pulling together proposals to improve the fight against COVID-19 through the WTO’s intricate system of rules.

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Intellectual property includes patents on technological know-how regarding vaccines. WTO members plan to start discussions next week in hope of sending a report to the Geneva-based trade body’s ambassadors in July.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has requested Japan provide 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in an attempt to complete administering the second dose to citizens.

Sri Lanka is facing a severe shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines as the producer in the neighboring India failed to provide the promised stock due to the crisis in that country.

On Wednesday, the president’s office announced that president Gotabhaya Rajapaksa requested Prime Minister of Japan Yoshiihide Suga provide 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca.

The request “has been met with positive responses,” according to a statement from the president’s office. Sri Lanka is currently using China’s Sinopharm and Rusian Sputnik V vaccines.

Sri Lanka has witnessed an increase of positive cases and deaths since April, partly caused by celebrations and shopping during last month’s traditional new year festival. Sri Lanka has registered more than 210,000 cases and 1,843 confirmed deaths.

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BEIRUT — Lebanon’s caretaker health minister has inaugurated the country’s largest vaccination center at a shopping mall in Beirut as the government speeds up the inoculation campaign against the coronavirus.

Hamad Hassan says the center run by the Lebanese Red Cross can vaccinate more than 5,000 persons a day and aims to encourage more people to take the vaccines outside hospitals and clinics.

Lebanon, a nation of about 6 million people, including a million Syrian refugees, has vaccinated more than 600,000 people with a first shot.

After hitting a record of more than 6,000 cases and nearly 100 deaths in one day earlier this year, lockdowns and strict measures by the government helped bring down the numbers. Lebanon’s health ministry reported 139 new cases and six deaths on Wednesday.

The nation has registered more than 540,000 confirmed cases and 7,780 deaths.

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PARIS — France’s government spokesman says the coronavirus situation in France “clearly improved” and the country on Wednesday reopened indoor spaces in restaurants and cafes as well as gyms and swimming pools.

Gabriel Attal says, “That is not only a foretaste, but the taste of the life we once had that we are getting back.”

The nighttime curfew is pushed back from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Major sport and cultural events are allowed with a maximum number of 5,000 people. They’ll need to show a vaccination certificate or a negative test within the last 48 hours. Terraces of restaurants and cafes, theaters, cinemas and museums reopened on May 19 after a six-month coronavirus shutdown.

About 54% of France’s adult population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. France is registering 6,500 daily virus cases on average, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak.

The nation has reported 110,000 confirmed deaths, among the highest tolls in Europe.

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim is criticizing vaccine hoarding by wealthy nations, urging the international community to “walk the talk” as Africa desperately lags behind in vaccinating against COVID-19.

Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, is hailed as a voice of moral authority across Africa. The 75-year-old earned his fortune by establishing the Celtel mobile phone network across Africa in the 1990s.

He is now using his fortune to promote democracy and political accountability on the continent, including through his sponsorship of the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for African leaders who govern responsibly and who give up their power peacefully. Speaking during a Zoom call with the Associated Press from London, where he is based, Ibrahim urged “at least a reasonable portion” of the vaccines should go to frontline workers in Africa.

“We need to hold our leaders accountable,” he said. “You deny and you pay the price… Unfortunately, your people also pay the price.”

Africa has administered vaccine doses to 31 million of its 1.3 billion people. Only 7 million people are fully vaccinated, according to World Health Organization Africa director Matshidiso Moeti. Health experts are concerned the continent will suffer greatly in the long term if more of its people are not vaccinated.

Africa has confirmed more than 4.9 million coronavirus cases and 132,000 deaths.

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BRUSSELS — Belgians are venturing out, many without face masks for the first time in months, as the government eased coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday.

Cafes, bars and restaurants can start inviting people indoors, rather than service only on terraces, and can stay open until 11:30 p.m.

Cinemas are opening again, with a maximum of 200 people allowed in if the numbers don’t exceed 75% of seating capacity. Bowling alleys, amusement arcades, casinos, gyms and markets are also back in business.

In the capital Brussels, people will be free to walk unencumbered in most places. Masks will be required in busy shopping areas or public transport where social distancing is more difficult.

New cases are down by 25% in the last week, to 1,315 per day, and hospital numbers continue to decline. About 67 people are still be admitted each day, with an average of 14 daily deaths.

The virus has killed more than 25,000 people in Belgium, which has a total population of 11.5 million.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is aiming to have everyone in the country vaccinated by November, a target he set with a general election scheduled for later this year.

Suga called vaccines “a trump card” of anti-virus measures and said Wednesday: “I want vaccines to be given by the October-November period to all the people who want to be vaccinated.”

The prime minister is desperately pushing to accelerate Japan’s COVID-19 vaccine program ahead of the Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 23 to Aug. 8.

Suga is seeking to have 1 million shots administered a day so all of the country’s 36 million older adults will be fully vaccinated by the end of July. He also urged major companies to prepare to start vaccinating their employees later this month to accelerate the process ahead of the Olympics.

Less than 4% of Japan’s population was fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to government figures.

Slow vaccinations and concerns about holding the Olympics amid the pandemic has prompted protests and sent Suga’s approval ratings to their lowest levels since he took office in September.

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PARIS — France is back in business as a tourist destination after opening its borders Wednesday to foreign visitors from the United States, Britain and elsewhere who are inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines approved by the European Union’s medicines agency.

France’s acceptance of only the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines means tourism is likely to be slow to pick up from China and other countries that use vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency.

Without one of the those four vaccines, non-EU visitors will still need to prove that they have a compelling reason to visit France and quarantine on arrival.

Still, the potential return of vaccinated tourists from the United States, Britain and other countries was hailed as great news by French tourism workers.

Marc Vernhet, owner of the 2CVParisTour.com agency that rents out vintage cars to visitors, said he is already starting to get reservations from American and British tourists for July.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — In the global race to vaccinate people against COVID-19, Africa is tragically at the back of the pack. In fact, it has barely gotten out of the starting blocks.

South Africa has the continent’s most robust economy and its biggest coronavirus caseload, but just 0.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a worldwide tracker kept by Johns Hopkins University. And hundreds of thousands of the country’s health workers, many of whom come face-to-face with the virus every day, are still waiting for shots.

Only 0.1% of the population has completed inoculated in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country with more than 200 million people. Even a smaller share of Kenya’s 50 million people have received the doses needed to be fully vaccinated.

The World Health Organization says the continent of 1.3 billion people is facing a severe vaccine shortage at the same time a new wave of infections is rising. Vaccine shipments into Africa have ground to a “near halt,” WHO said last week.

Chad didn’t administer its first vaccine shots until this past weekend. And there are at least five other countries in Africa where not one dose has been put into an arm, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers have endorsed a new travel certificate that will allow people to move between European countries without having to quarantine or undergo extra coronavirus tests, paving the way for the pass to start in time for summer.

The widely awaited certificate is aimed at saving Europe’s travel industry and prime tourist sites from another disastrous vacation season. Key travel destinations like Greece led the drive to have the certificate, which will have both paper and digital forms, rapidly introduced.

Several EU countries have already begun using the system, including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece and Poland.

The new regulations governing the vaccine certificates were adopted Wednesday in two votes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Rules for EU citizens were passed 546 to 93, with 51 abstentions. Those for people from outside the bloc passed 553-91, with 46 abstentions.

Right now, traveling in the EU’s 27 nations is a trial for tourists and airlines alike. Countries have various COVID-19 traffic-light systems, where those in green are considered safe and those in red to be avoided. But each nation is applying different rules and standards, making travel confusing for all.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has administered 10 million vaccine doses as COVID-19 cases and deaths steadily decline in the country.

Asad Umar, minister for planning and development, announced the milestone in a televised ceremony Wednesday. He asked people to get themselves vaccinated to return to a normal life.

From the beginning of its campaign in March up to Wednesday, Pakistan counts more than 2.5 million people fully vaccinated and more than 4.7 million partially vaccinated.

Pakistan is now seeing a single-day coronavirus positivity rate of about 2.5%, compared to more than 11% in April.

It reported 77 COVID-19 deaths and 1,118 cases of coronavirus infection in the past 24 hours. Pakistan has registered a total of 936,131 cases and 21,453 deaths in the pandemic.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is talking with Singapore about opening its first “travel bubble” in July, which would allow vaccinated travelers on direct flights to bypass quarantine.

Health officials said Wednesday the country has also proposed bubbles with Taiwan, Thailand and the U.S. Pacific territories of Guam and Saipan as it looks to ease pandemic-related traveling restrictions to revive ailing tourism and airline industries.

South Korea currently mandates two-week quarantines on most passengers arriving from abroad.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said the country will initially open its travel bubbles only to fully vaccinated travelers arriving on direct flights and members of group tours who could be monitored by their travel agencies. To bypass quarantine, bubble travelers must have vaccination documents and be cleared by COVID-19 tests upon arrival.

Officials said talks on opening the travel bubbles may not proceed quickly in places where the virus situation is fluctuating. Thailand has experienced its worst outbreak of the pandemic in recent weeks, still regularly exceeding 2,000 new cases daily, and Singapore and Taiwan have been dealing with worrisome new clusters.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city will emerge from its fourth pandemic lockdown on Friday.

But some restrictions will remain and the 5 million residents of Melbourne won’t be allowed to travel to regional centers in surrounding Victoria state.

State officials say the lockdown will end after two weeks following only one new coronavirus case detected in the latest 24-hour period linked to the Melbourne cluster. The new case brings the number of infections in the cluster to 68.

Children can return to school Friday and travel restrictions will be changed to allow Melbourne residents to travel up to 25 kilometers (16 miles) for non-essential reasons rather than 10 kilometers (6 miles).

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